The Game of Life

With raised eyebrows and typical Stacy-the-cynic incredulity, I have been quietly observing groups of teens and millennials running around public places with their cellphones, chasing virtual Pokémon characters. Initially, I believed that Pokémon Go could be nothing more than just one more digital distraction. One more excuse to stare at a smart phone like a zombie. One more reason to avoid conversation with human beings. And watching a young man in plaid shorts and a tan fedora nearly step into a busy intersection, because his phone covered his face as he caught a Pokémon, certainly corroborated my initial impressions of the game. So much life is spent staring at tiny screens these days, says the fuddy-duddy within me; and I can hear Mack clucking her tongue at me as I judge that hipster who almost lost his life for the sake of a game.

But after reading a couple of articles about Pokémon Go and having a lengthy conversation about it with my daughter Savannah (who is an enthusiastic player), I wondered if I might have been too quick to throw shade at the game and too quick to lump it in with other cell-phone games—like Temple Run or Angry Birds—that steal our time, endanger our eyesight, and cripple our thumbs. In order to collect Pokémon characters, players must get off of their couches and go forth into the world. That is a good thing…right? Most of the people I see playing the game are with friends, so that is good, too…I think. The game encourages players to visit historical markers and memorials. How in the world can the historian Stacy be dismissive of that?! Yet no sooner am I convincing myself that Pokémon Go will raise a new generation of historians, Mack chortles in my ear and says, “Momma Bear, do ya really think they gonna stop and read the markers after they catch the Pokémons?”

And so back I am now to my original position of stern judgment against Pokémon Go and scorn for that hipster who almost got himself run over playing it. Also, here I am now wondering (as I have done with so many other new things that Mack has missed) if Mack herself would be running around town catching Pokémons if she was here. But, of course, if she would be playing the game, you can probably bet your ass she would not stop to read the historical markers along the way.

All of this mental energy devoted to my analysis of Pokémon Go over the past couple of weeks reminded me of a column that Mack wrote for her college newspaper. Recognizing the limitations of our screens—cellphones, TVs and computers—to satisfy our human need for social relationships, Mack paid tribute to the humble board game. I leave you here with Mack’s homage to The Game of Life, her most favorite board game of them all; and I am content for Mack, who knew so well how to play the real game of life, to have the final word upon this subject.

Board games are more social than staring at a screen, By Mackenzie McDermott
Truman State Index, 20 March 2014

A knock at the door, and the 8-year-old me runs down the stairs, The Game of Life firmly in hand. A handful of my parents’ friends stand on the porch, their children at their sides. The adults shuffle into the living area and the other kids and I run into the adjacent room. We are easily satisfied by what probably are last year’s Halloween candies and a good, old-fashioned board game. Circled on the carpet, we play that game again and again, the only noise our own laughter and that of our parents in the other room. The game doesn’t end until they come in to scoop us up and haul us off to bed. As we get older, we move into the adult room and loudly play charades, equally as satisfied.

This is the strongest memory of my childhood. It became such a commonplace ritual that my Life game—which I never have been able to part with—resembles one rescued from a war zone. The box is ripped apart, there are only a few of the little peg people left and the wheel doesn’t quite resemble a wheel anymore, but it still is there to remind me of just how easily entertained I used to be. Keeping kids today happy for hours with a little box of semi-movable parts or a hat full of ripped up bits of paper would be little short of a miracle.

With video games becoming more realistic and interactive, Netflix picking up more popular shows and movies, and new board games incorporating DVD elements, our culture has all but forgotten games you don’t have to plug in. Remember when Mouse Trap literally was the most high-tech thing you could think of and putting it together made you feel like a physicist? Or the way Monopoly had you convinced you would be fine if you ran away from home? I can think of so many board games that were integral to my interactions with my friends as a kid. It’s a different kind of experience than one in which people are looking at a screen. During our technological age, a friendly gathering often feels more like a night out at the movies.

Classic board games make you interact on a very human level. You circle around, face each other and are forced to fill silence with conversation. Even when new board games are made, they tend to have a literal board on which to move pieces around, but the game play itself happens on a computer or TV, such as all versions of Scene It. We love to be pointed in one direction, facing a screen rather than each other.

This isn’t just a generational trend and it’s not a shifting idea of what is fun—it simply is a change of comfort zone. Now that we’ve gotten used to the comfort of our screens, we don’t think we’ll like life without them, but we’re wrong. I know this because I recently played Cranium with friends after exhausting all of Parks and Recreation on Netflix. I can unequivocally confirm that board games do, indeed, still rule.

A group of 20-year-olds huddled on the floor of my dim, cold living room might have been a funny sight, but we didn’t let that concern us. We just chatted, laughed, trash-talked and became far more upset than anyone older than 12 should be about a board game. Once the game was finished, my teammate declared we would not stop playing until he won. I hope we don’t.


Mack playing cards with cousins

game of life

Mack’s battered, well-loved Game of Life

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